If a deadly global crisis can't stop 3,000 people from working on SoFi Stadium, what can?

Shalise Manza Young
Yahoo Sports Columnist

Coronavirus news on Yahoo

Our lives have been dominated by the coronavirus for the past few weeks. As most governors and many mayors implore residents to stay home and go out only when necessary to stanch the spread of COVID-19, businesses all over the country have been temporarily shuttered.

But in Inglewood, California, construction continues on the massive SoFi Stadium, the future home of the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a mandate nearly two weeks ago saying only essential workers may continue going to work, and building a football stadium doesn’t seem to fit the definition of “essential.”

Somehow, the project has been deemed exempt, and work has continued on the structure, the cost of which is approaching $5 billion, by far the most expensive stadium the NFL has ever seen.

The price tag, ridiculous as it is, isn’t the worst of it.

Via the Los Angeles Times, as of Monday one construction worker at the site has tested positive for the coronavirus, while a second was presumed positive.

And still on Tuesday, the roughly 3,000 workers, who are putting the last touches on the structure, were told to come into work.

The underlying theme? Profits over people.

SoFi must be opened by the end of July, when a pair of Taylor Swift concerts are scheduled, the health of the men and women building it be damned.

Perhaps we shouldn’t expect better, not from Stan Kroenke, who abandoned the people of St. Louis in 2016 to move the Rams back to Los Angeles. When he left, Kroenke did nothing to help with the money still owed on the Edward Jones Dome, the $280 million, fully taxpayer-funded stadium built for the Rams in 1995.

St. Louis was stuck with over $140 million in debt and maintenance costs tied to the dome when Kroenke abandoned the city that had supported the franchise — and then had the nerve to tell two L.A. Times reporters after other NFL team owners OK’d his money-grab that he, somehow, was a “victim.”

Kroenke owns the SoFi site and is developing it privately, with the Chargers as tenants. But let us not forget that Dean Spanos was quick to desert the devoted fans of San Diego when they voted against a local tax hike to cover roughly two-thirds the cost of a new stadium.

File photo: The giant Oculus 2-sided video board is being assembled inside on the floor of SoFi Stadium. The stadium is supposed to open at the end of July. (Photo by Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)

For many reporting to the worksite, things have gotten scary.

“If our safety was the most important thing, they wouldn’t have us out here,” a tile layer told The Times. “Everybody is talking about it. Your focus isn’t 100 percent on your work. You have that in the back of your head ... We feel like we’re invisible.”

The tile worker wasn’t the only one. A half-dozen other workers spoke to The Times, though they asked that they not be identified for fear of retribution.

One electrician admitted that everyone “is a little nervous, but we need the money.”

A second electrician said, “If they want to get the stadium done, they need to provide something to minimize the risk of exposing anyone. It doesn’t take much to realize how big this [problem] could be.”

Those steps aren’t being taken.

Turner-AECOM Hunt, the general contracting joint venture overseeing construction of the stadium, said it has increased the number of toilets and hand-washing stations, sanitizes the field offices daily and has non-essential staff work from home, and also tells those not feeling well — with a cough, fever or difficulty breathing — to stay home. They’re also encouraging social distancing.

In practice, however, that’s not happening.

The Times reviewed worksite photos from recent days that showed workers congregating or working in close quarters; workers themselves reported as many as eight people in a lift going to and from their work station.

Per the Times, one union official wrote on Facebook that they’d never been part of a more populated job site in their 39-year career.

The reality is, while two workers are positive or presumed positive, there’s no way of knowing how many others are positive and not yet showing symptoms of the disease; some don’t show signs at all, and the coronavirus is highly contagious.

It’s a risk that doesn’t have to be taken, not if the lives of workers truly are valued.

While a Turner-AECOM Hunt spokesman said there is a zero-tolerance policy in place for not following procedures, the photos tell a different tale. And while the spokesman also said, “We actively listen to workers and address any concerns they may have. If they feel uncomfortable, they are free to remain home,” workers feel far differently.

“They say don’t come in if you’re sick, but you want to get your paycheck. Here, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid,” an electrician said.

“You feel if you stop showing up, you’re not going to have a job,” the tile layer said. “I feel like my hands are tied. Even though they don’t say they’ll get rid of you, that’s how you feel.”

SoFi Stadium is not “essential infrastructure,” the loophole that allows construction to continue. It’s an arena for games and concerts. The thousands of men and women who are crafting it into the opulent paean of excess it’s designed to be are hardworking human beings whose health matters far more than we’re seeing, more than platitudes from a PR handbook.

One worker said his defense against getting the coronavirus is to take his vitamins and hold his breath when passing co-workers. That’s hardly protection enough.

It’s past time for Kroenke and Turner-AECOM Hunt to step in.

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